Finding meaning in the tragic and horrifying murder of James Foley this week is a very personal and difficult endeavor. For those of us who knew Jim, the road ahead will be particularly long and trying. As a lifelong journalist, the path forward for me will be rooted in a renewed and profound respect for a profession that for Jim was not a job, but a calling. Was it worth dying for? No. And Jim had said that himself. But is the pursuit of shining light in the dark places, telling the human stories that would otherwise go untold, and advancing the conversation in America on issues that for too many seem remote and tangential, worth some risk? Yes. Jim’s life and his example as a skilled conflict reporter are emphatic answers to that question.
It is easy to forget as a reader and viewer the skill and dedication of the journalist. It is easy to forget, too, the risk that is sometimes necessary in conflict reporting to get the story. We read, we watch, and we move on with our busy lives. We don’t pause to ask how the sources were cultivated, how the facts were checked, or how the video and photos were obtained, even if those images are hard to forget, as Jim’s so often were.
In the digital age, an increasingly difficult time for journalism, the lines between professionals and others have become blurred. In this new age, there has been a robust discussion in journalism circles about the roles of bloggers, citizen journalists, and professional reporters, particularly when it comes to covering conflict. But if Jim’s sacrifice is to have meaning, then there needs to be an equally vigorous discussion among readers, visitors, and viewers.
What differentiates a “professional journalist”? The answer in Jim’s example was his dedication to developing his craft and to journalistic practices rooted in a professional ethos. It was that dedication that led Jim to return to reporting in Libya after being captured and spending six weeks in a prison there. Can you imagine? He remained dedicated to telling the story of the Libyan people and was part of a team that won the prestigious Overseas Press Club Award for that work. Another answer in Jim’s example was his courage. It was that courage that led him to tell the story of the Syrian people before his kidnapping. In a videoabout civilian casualties, Jim took viewers deep inside the conflict for an unforgettable close-up view of what it is like on the ground. It’s the kind of reporting that is moving in its authenticity.
Jim Foley was among the most courageous journalists I have ever known. When I see Jim in my mind’s eye at his final moment, which I will for the rest of my life, I will remember his incredible courage. He may be gone, but his commitment to tell the stories of war, to the mission of journalism, will live on and should remain a beacon for our profession. I created GlobalPost to tell the very stories to which Jim Foley first devoted, and then literally gave, his life. In our sadness at his loss, we are rededicating ourselves to this mission in his honor and that of all of the other brave men and women who continue to risk their lives every day to bring the news home.